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The Milton Measure

Should Age-Based Laws be Revised?

by on Friday, October 2nd, 2015

When I turn 18 next January, I will be able to vote in the coming 2016 election, enlist in the army, and serve on a jury. But I will not be able to order a beer. Why am I allowed to die for my country, yet I am not allowed to order a glass of wine with my meal? Most countries have set the minimum age for purchasing alcohol at 18, so why hasn’t the US done the same? After comparing our policies to those of other developed nations, I propose that the minimum drinking age be lowered and the minimum driving age be raised, to the age of 17-19, depending on the state.

In 1971, Congress lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and many states followed by lowering the minimum drinking age to 18 too. By the late 1970s, most states had a minimum drinking age of 18. But when research began to show an increase in traffic fatalities in these states, state legislatures began to reverse course. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded. The organization quickly gained political clout, pushing legislators to change the laws to raise the legal drinking age back to 21. As a result the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984. Yet in regard to reducing traffic fatalities, why wasn’t raising the minimum driving age also included? The DMV reports that teenagers are at the highest risk of traffic crashes, yet in the US a beer is considered more dangerous than a car.

In 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that on average, 92 people died each day from traffic-related fatalities that year. Accidents account for half of teenage deaths per year, with motor-related accidents being the number one cause. Many people would argue that having the driving age at 16 allows high school students to be more independent, freeing many parents of the responsibility of chauffeuring their children to and from school or other activities. However, other developed nations like the U.K. and Italy function well despite the driving age being 18. While raising the age may be an inconvenience to some families, there is great potential to greatly decrease teen mortality and traffic fatalities. In New Jersey the driving age is 17, yet research in the 1990s showed that the rate of crash related deaths among 16 and 17 year olds was 18 per 100,000 people in New Jersey, compared with 26 per 100,000 people in Connecticut. Surely the chance to save lives is more valuable than risking convenience.

In Europe and Asia, the drinking age is 18, with some cultures encouraging families to let their children consume beer and wine at a young age. By lowering the drinking age parents can better educate their children about alcohol, robbing drinking of its taboo allure. It is safer for teenagers to learn about alcohol under the supervision of their parents rather than while binge drinking vodka at a frat party. 21 is also an arbitrary number. There is no scientific reasoning that drinking is safer or healthier at age 21 versus 20, 19, or 18. If anything, research indicates that one’s brain has finished development by age 25.

According to a study reported by the New York Times, the fact that laws make it illegal for most college students to drink inadvertently makes it more likely that students will engage in binge drinking. By the time Americans turn 21, they are most likely at college where they have access to alcohol–everything from beer to hard liquor. Yet most are without the proper knowledge of how to drink responsibly. This differs greatly from the teenagers in Europe, most of whom are familiar with alcohol, due to its cultural use.

Based on the evidence, I believe lowering the drinking age could potentially reduce the risk of binge drinking. Regardless of the law, plenty of teens consume alcoholic beverages before they turn 21 and will continue to do so. The laws have to change in order to benefit the people they are trying to protect. The current age of 21 is not benefiting the affected population as well as it could if the age were lower.

Turning 18 should still be exciting even if one cannot drink (at least in the US). The only way for the drinking age in the US to be lowered to 18 is if changes are made to driving laws, making drunk driving laws stricter or raising the minimum to operate a motor vehicle. As a result, change may be difficult as many Americans look forward to turning 16 for the right of passage that is driving a car or to turning 21 so they can finally drink legally.

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Posted by on Oct 2 2015. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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